Team building is the first step that needs to be taken when striving for developing high performance teams. A good amount of field research has showcased that team traits such as better interpersonal relationships, increased creativity, improved decision making and problem solving, are boosted through the practice of team –building activities. And this is reasonable, since people are creatures that learn through first-hand experience, through coming together and exercising their own powers of agency. However, in the era of dynamic global markets and extensive lockdowns that have fuelled remote, online collaborations an alternative way of bringing people together needs to be addressed: one that is fun and engaging, while not sacrificing the valuable benefits traditional team-building initiatives bring forth for organizations. Enter, VR technologies: an immersive sound and visual-based experience, replicating the real world or augmenting its features.
With the costs of any high-end equipment used in VR applications dropping significantly over the years, VR has become a much more accessible and elegant learning solution (e.g. Patera, Draper & Naef, 2008). Researchers in particular, note its potential to engage people’s cognitive as well as affective potential. In their 2018 paper, for instance Makransky and Lilleholt, claim that the “immersiveness” of VR can boost and sustain learning (cognition) by generating positive emotions among users (joy, excitement), who experience the whole process as a game. With these findings in mind, various industries such as healthcare systems, the sports industry, the military, recruitment agencies, home entertainment etc. have been utilizing VR applications in order to enhance their teams’ capabilities (Modolin & Grace, 2018).
Overall, ongoing research and experience showcases that team building practiced through VR technology brings to the table, some very positive outcomes:
- Effective Communication – VR has been shown to resolve team building issues that cannot be eliminated when using other more “linear” screen sharing platforms, whereby teammates can only share audio, text, and images. Such issues include poor ability to communicate, passive problem solving and poor spatial perception (Wu et al., 2019). The latter is especially important when particular teams need to collaborate and bond around a dynamic, often high-risk work scenario (e.g. a battlefield simulation, a medical emergency scenario etc.). In their 2019 paper, Wu et al., designed an avatar-based VR communication platform for certain teams of engineers who were working remotely from various locations and thus had no other way of coming together. The researchers pointed that the VR-based platform strongly improved team collaboration in terms of problem identification & safety awareness. Each engineer gained greater clarity early on about the product and could propose and showcase to the others any changes (through 3D models on a screen) they found fit. This visual on-the-spot feedback loop between teammates is exceptionally beneficial for establishing clear and productive communication. Easy, fast and tight feedback reduces, in turn time, financial costs and strengthens team trust.
- Improved Collaboration – As explained VR technology can go a long way in making communications within a team run smoothly. The same is true for team collaboration. Through VR supported training and team building activities remote employees are able to socialize with colleagues and learn together in a meaningful way (e.g. there is no need to travel overseas to design or evaluate products). In their 2012 study, Venkatesh & Windeler conducted a field study -gathering valuable data cross the span of one year- that compared a collaborative technology system based on the “traditional” desktop metaphor with a VR system. Analysing the data at the team level, the authors found that the use of the VR system positively influenced team cohesion (another supportive study by Warmelink, et al., 2017), in that teammates effectively collaborated to harness their full potential.
- Team trust – A very telling study conducted by Corbitt et al. (2004) sheds light upon a widely held belief, namely that when it comes to building trust among team members nothing can substitute the actual face-to-face interaction; face-to-face groups produce better team trust results. The authors examined face-to-face, as well as virtual teams on team trust and performance during two different team developmental stages; before the team was formed and after a certain project was worked through and delivered by the same team. Trust was effectively developed by both groups with no significant difference in results produced by face-to-face teams, while simultaneously virtual teams scored a bit higher in the direction of effective performance. An interesting postulation is presented by another group of researchers elucidating how a digital experience can still boost an admittedly intimate condition such as trust. Van der Land and her colleagues summarizes how certain VR key features mainly the feeling of being present within a (digital) environment as well as the feeling of interacting with others, boosts shared understating within the working group (Van der Land et al., 2011).
“Through the shared virtual environment, users experience higher levels of presence (a feeling of actually “being there”), realism and interactivity. These capabilities increase the users’ level of information processing. Avatar-based interaction induces greater feelings of social presence (being with others) […] thus increasing the level of communication support in the 3D environment. Through [both], a higher level of shared understanding is reached, which in turn positively influences team performance”.
- Improved team performance – Solid examples of improved team performance can be found across the various cases of VR applications within sports as well as military contexts (e.g. soldier-based simulators). Coaches, commanders and players can trial out a wide variety of team gameplay scenarios, through VR. Players can measure the effectiveness of their technique and course correct, as VR systems can capture delicate body movements (e.g. running, shooting in a virtual environment) and provide substantial data/feedback throughout the training process (Fan & Wen, 2019)
Corbitt, G., Gardiner, L. R., & Wright, L. K. (2004, January). A comparison of team developmental stages, trust and performance for virtual versus face-to-face teams. In 37th Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, 2004. Proceedings of the (pp. 8-pp). IEEE.
Fan, Y. C., & Wen, C. Y. (2019). A virtual reality soldier simulator with body area networks for team training. Sensors, 19(3), 451.
Makransky, G. & Lilleholt (2018). A Structural Equation Modelling Investigation of the Emotional Value of Immersive Virtual Reality. Educational Technology and Research, 1-24
Modolin, S., & Grace, S. (2018). Virtual Reality Games for Team Building Interventions: Comparison of team building interventions for university students. Paper within master thesis in informatics.
Patera, M., Draper, S., & Naef, M. (2008). Exploring Magic Cottage: A Virtual Reality Environment for Stimulating Children’s Imaginative Writing. Interactive Learning Environments, 16(3), 245-263.
Van der Land, S., Schouten, A., & Feldberg, F. (2011). Modeling the metaverse: A theoretical model of effective team collaboration in 3D virtual environments. Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, 4(3).
Venkatesh, V., & Windeler, J. B. (2012). Hype or help? A longitudinal field study of virtual world use for team collaboration. Journal of the Association for Information Systems, 13(10), 5.
Warmelink, H., Mayer, I., Weber, J., Heijligers, B., Haggis, M., Peters, E., & Louwerse, M. (2017, October). AMELIO: Evaluating the team-building potential of a mixed reality escape room game. In Extended Abstracts Publication of the Annual Symposium on Computer-Human Interaction in Play (pp. 111-123).
Wu, T. H., Wu, F., Liang, C. J., Li, Y. F., Tseng, C. M., & Kang, S. C. (2019). A virtual reality tool for training in global engineering collaboration. Universal Access in the Information Society, 18(2), 243-255.